Failure. Relapse. New Resolve.

Do Over

I haven’t blogged for a while partly due to extreme busyness but also due to the fact that I relapsed and started drinking again. I conned myself into believing I could manage my addiction better since I believed I had adopted a new mindset and belief structure regarding my drinking. The Greeks called it Hubris, but whatever I name it: self-delusion, denial, overconfidence, it all adds up to the same thing…idiocy.

I planned my relapse by calling it a dispensation (a break from Lenten commitment) and thought I had gained enough control to find a way to manage it. I drank on my Birthday after 48 days dry. I have drunk 6 times since, culminating with a three-day party weekend. The usual situations and outcomes occurred: too much booze with my drinking friends, drinking until I crashed, feeling like total crap the next day, followed by the anxiety and a little depression. Happy Birthday!  Of course this leads to the wind getting sucked out of my sails and my motivation flags (not just with drinking but other areas of improvement also).  “Hello self loathing my old friend, I’ve come to speak with you again” Also this stint was particularly unpleasant for me. Not that it was much worse than past occurrences its just I hated it more when it was over and I have an even clearer sense of why I hate drinking and why I need to quit. Permanently.

But all is not lost and I will not let the setback weaken my resolve. I have learned much; during this spell of sobriety about the nature of this problem and built: strategies for success. Including help with cravings, boredom and being around people who are drinking. And I have started building an on-line support community through this and other blogs. I also learned I love being sober and all the benefits that come with it.  In addition my wife is for the first time fully on board with my  recovery.  Maybe because after I had dried out for 48 days it made the contrast of my drinking again much clearer to her.   She has always been supportive but now she really gets it.

And I am not going alone this time. I have officially notified my friends and family of the  plan,  joined the Booze Free Brigade and will probably be attending AA meetings (I would love to explore some SMART recovery meetings but they don’t have any in my area).

Coincidentally I received two omens Sunday.

First, I listened to the Bubble Hour and completely randomly landed on the episodes of what to do after relapse and  one regarding relationships (Amazing) as usual it was extraordinarily helpful and relevant.

Second at church Sunday morning our pastor’s sermon focused on the help God’s love provides all of us. Specifically touching on instances where alcoholics he has known (he is an ex navy chaplain and has been around many high functioning alcoholics) found direction and tools through prayer, scripture and fellowship. We attended the same Methodist church for years and I have never had him discuss alcoholism in a sermon before, but on the day I am praying for help from god regarding this problem he delivers one. Whether you believe these events had something to do with divine intervention or not, I’ll take all the help I can get.

I understand the challenges I will face (some of them anyway) but I have better tools and more support and I will deal with them.   I am a little humbled and disappointed but I truly feel this relapse has actually provided me with more information and motivation than I had prior to it  and I can honestly say I am more determined than ever to live a sober, productive, thankful life.

Day 2.  (again).  Back in the ring.

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Why we fight.

 

I am blogging this site anonymously and thought I would explain why.  Number one.  Who wants people who you don’t know that well all up in your business? Number two. I want to be able to be totally honest about my experiences and my situation. Some of which are pretty damn ugly.  I own my own business in a competitive industry, have a family and don’t really want to take the risk of exposing either one of these thing to the potentially unintended consequences of my deciding to open up and bleed my story all over the internet. I have been selfish and self-absorbed enough already,  now that I am going to dry out, I am not going to drag the innocent bystanders with me.  Hey, sorry for the blow-back folks but boy do I feel a lot better!   What I am doing and what I have done really isn’t a secret to my close friends and family, but again, I don’t feel like opening my world up for public consumption just yet.

I have drunk almost non-stop since I was 16.  High School, College, adulthood and middle age.  What has occurred to me lately is that I have never lived as an adult with out the ever-present and very heavily used crutch of alcohol.  I have literally never had time away from booze to see what my life would be like without it.  For the record it has been a very hard partying existence, not only with alcohol but with other experimentations as well.  To say I have lived fast is an understatment.  Hard working and hard partying, anything but boring.  I hate being bored and I hated boring people.   I can’t say all I learned was bad – I experienced a lot and learned a lot, I just never got off the party train.

I am not sure what the total impact of my drinking has been on my life.  I have enjoyed a succesful career and great family.  I do know that my drinking is definitely different from many people’s abut a lot like many other’s.  I know many successful people who party hard and work hard and I am frankly jealous that I can’t live that lifestyle.  I am different.  For one thing, if I’m not ADHD I am wasting one hell of an opportunity.  I hate doing the boring details of almost anything.  I like new challenges and solving problems not executing something over and over again.  Oh yeah, I am pretty sure I also have a compulsive and addictive / compulsive personality (thanks Bubble Hour).  A lot of the people I know that drink,  even the ones that drink pretty heavily, don’t go all in the way I do.  Booze combines with and affects the other areas of my personality in a way that exploits my weaknesses.  Procrastination, anxiety, denial and boredom are amplified and fed and my ability to deal with them is essentially eliminated because I don’t ever have to deal with them – I could just drink!

Since I have quit I am starting to get some of these areas under control.  Meditation, exercise, sleep, prayer and diet have am amazing effect of one’s body, mind and soul.  Every day sober is different and new, full of discovery – some good and some not so good.  And I can live with that.   Many of the challenges we face are scary when they are off in the distance, growling in the dark,  but are less intimidating up close in the light.  I am in the ring now, the foe is in front of me and I am focused, clear-headed and resolved.    Ring the bell, Day 44.

 

 

25 Things I’ve Learned While Quitting Drinking

Day 25 without booze and these are 25 things I’ve learned.

  1. I don’t know shit.
  2. Alcoholism or dependence takes on many different forms. No one looks like the typical alcoholic.
  3. If you are really worried about your drinking, you probably have a problem.
  4. Everyone going through recovery has a lot of the same fears.  Research the web and you will understand you are not alone.  We don’t have one fear that isn’t shared by multiple people who have gone on to overcome it.
  5. Either 90% of the alcoholics are women or 99.9% of the sobriety bloggers are women.
  6. I’m tired a lot.
  7. My sleep is better.
  8. I don’t snore anymore.
  9. My mind is clearer.
  10. My moods don’t sway as much.
  11. My god there’s a lot to do when you’re not drinking.
  12. The first 21 days are a bitch but it’s getting better.
  13. My anxiety has been reduced.
  14. Most everyone going through recovery is ashamed of virtually everything and really shouldnt be.
  15. Women are more ashamed than men and really shouldnt be.
  16. We think people are much more interested in us than they really are because everyone has their own shit to worry about.
  17. I’ve gained weight.
  18. Many of your friends will not support you in your sobriety and this is OK.  Friends come and go throughout life, we will keep the real ones, lose the marginal ones and make new ones.
  19. Addicts tend to be smart and that can work against them.
  20. Women are better than men at understanding the nature of their addiction and sharing the knowledge with others.
  21. I am stronger than I thought.
  22. Alcohol is a liar. It knows you really well and work on every doubt and insecurity you have.
  23. I judge others too much and that’s part of the reason I worry too  much what other people think.
  24. I’m human.
  25. I can do this and if I can do this, anyone can do this.

 

Day 21 – Surviving in Dangerous Territory

Day 21 – Please forgive me if I ramble, my brain is still re-wiring itself due to no alcohol, excess sleep (for me), and caffeine.

This week is the perfect storm of drinking.  St. Patrick’s day followed by the NCAA tournament. Entire days can disappear into basketball and beer. On top of this the weather has finally turned sunny , warm and beautiful. Email and texts are bouncing around with notifications of different meeting places and times. I can’t avoid the fray forever, as a matter of fact I don’t want to.  I have friends that I don’t want to ignore and a beautiful, fun, intelligent wife who loves to socialize.  She is very supportive and love her for it, but this is my ride and I will be damned if I can’t weather a little discomfort and not disrupt her life.  I have been out to dinner and drinks a few times and have done ok. In the process I have learned a couple things to prepare for that will make the evening run more smoothly

The first thing to prepare for is having to explain to people:

1.) That I’m not drinking

2.) Why I’m not drinking.

I don’t really care about people noticing, I just get bored and irritated by the questions. It’s kind of like having a cast on your arm and explaining for the 20th time in the same night how you sprained your wrist and having people want tell you their own experience, remedies or advice. It just quite simply wears me out. The problem is compounded by the fact that telling someone you have quit drinking generally produces some discomfort or defensiveness that can result in some incredibly idiotic questions or responses.  Now I can deal with the questions from my fiends, who I will make allowances for,  but I don’t need to suffer foolish questions from acquaintances or complete strangers .

My first line of defense is to fly under the radar and simply not alert people to the fact I am not drinking.  A fake cocktail (the bloggers I read call it the mocktail, at least unpickled does) not only is it something to occupy your hands with, but if it is created properly most people just assume you have a drink and don’t bother you. And if you know your bartender (trust me I know mine quite well) a little preparation will complete the ruse. First, make it look like real drink.  For example: Dewar’s and Water – Rocks glass, ginger ale, twist. Vodka and Tonic, Gin and Tonic, etc. – Sprite, Tonic or Soda Water and a lime wedge. Second , when refilling the drink, refill it like a drink – only when it’s empty and reload the ice and twist – just like a new drink.  Also,  there is a certain decorum in drinking with others in a bar or saloon.  Proper glassware needs to be used and bartenders need to be tipped.  Just because our tab is $3.50 for our 10 diet coke refills, doesn’t mean we don’t need to tip accordingly .  Tipping tip – count your swizzle sticks (see above), multiply by a drink price ($4 – $6) and leave 20%.   You will instantly become a very good friend of your bartender. So fill’er up again my man and let me buy my friend here a tall glass of Mind Your Own Fucking Business.

The second part of the preparation creating My Story or at least a response to people who ask why I am not drinking.   Inevitably I am going to be asked why I am not drinking so I may as well be ready with a response.  I have read a lot of blog posts lately and just listened to a podcast of the Bubble Hour (unbelievably strong) where this topic was discussed so I understand that this is a common issue for a lot of people in recovery.  We don’t want to cause others discomfort for the questions or stigma that may come from the disclosure that we are choosing sobriety, so it is best to prepare something in advance that can defuse and deflect the question.  My Story currently is that I am giving up booze for Lent, which by the way, is true (the fact that I plan to continue with the plan after Lent is my business).  Quite frankly this Story is so easy and true that it is impossible not to use.   However,  I have thought a lot about this and I have decided on a different long-term approach: discretionary honesty and limited explanation.  My future response to questions will simply  be this:  I used to drink,  I had my fill, and I prefer not to drink anymore.  Period.  It’s the truth and it’s all anyone needs to know.  If someone has some legitimate questions regarding my journey I will be glad to answer them and perhaps provide some insight.  And if people ask questions which are clumsy or rise  from  discomfort or embarrassment because they think they have asked something inappropriate, I will laugh it off and let them know it is not at all uncomfortable to me.  If the questions are insistent, stupid or rude then my response will be the same as whenever I am confronted by such things. I will either dismiss the comments with no response or politely tell them to fuck off.   And if it’s my knucklehead friends blowing me shit then  I’ll give as good as I get.

Here’s my thoughts on this: I think being self-consciousness makes other people self-conscious and I don’t have any reason to be self-conscious.   I’ve quit drinking, not renounced my U.S. citizenship or decided to engage in polygamy.   Besides I have drunk and partied my entire adult life and am clearly not a choir boy, I just don’t drink anymore.  Deal with it, or not, the rest of my personal struggle with drinking is private.   I will seek counsel regarding my fears and insecurities from my on-line support community, close friends and family.  However, as a  retired professional drinker, I will not worry about the opinions of rank amateurs regarding my drinking career.

Anyway,  I know through experience it is not always as easy as what I have made it out to be.  But I can’t just cut myself off completely from the drinking world, nor do I really want to (most of the time).  Just like everything in life, a little preparation goes a long way.

One other thought.  Thank god for the on-line support community.  I have no idea how people approached sobriety and recovery 30 years ago. For all of you bloggers (by the way, 90% of whom are women) , and people who have responded and offered support and information –  thank you.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

st patty

“Hey buddy, Happy St Patrick’ Day.  Are you open for a green beer tonight or will you be in the bag by then?”  That’s the text I received yesterday at 10:00 AM. from an old friend who is in town on business.  He’s joking…kind of. He and I go way back, and have similar drinking tendencies (although I don’t think he’s quite as devout as me) so he knows it’s a pretty good bet that I would be taking a lunch of no return with some friends and enjoying an afternoon of Blarney (and Jameson’s). Hey it’s St Patty’s day after all, the drinker’s holiday, everyone’s Irish and everyone has a license to drink.  Right?  I can’t even begin to reflect on the years of drinking adventure that has taken place on this Lenten holiday.  These were my favorite times to drink, being a little rebellious with my fellow early afternoon drinkers while most everyone else was at work.

 Actually I am half Irish and half English.  My friends would tell me it is the perfect combination for drinking like a professional while fending off a hang-over with a stiff upper lip.  That’s why I am destined to drink, right?  It’s funny, the stories we tell ourselves to define who we are and our place in the world.  And it’s funny the stories that we tell ourselves to justify another drink (or the first one in over two weeks); it’s St Patty’s Day, Saturday, Friday, a major client won, a stinging defeat, it’s my heritage, it’s my personality, I’ll just have one or two, and on and on and on.  The problem is that these stories, all of them, are lies.  The Irish drink no more than the English, Germans, or Americans and that hangover won’t give a damn about what the justification was for my drinking the night before.  I will have smartened up by then and just be pissed off that I could be so gullible to listen to the same lies again.

It’s hard to spot a good liar, but one sign is that they are generally trying to convince me of something that I know deep down inside doesn’t ring true.  I am trying to guard against these deceptions by getting focused on what is true, so I clearly understand and reinforce the reasons I don’t drink.  The list is long: poor health, disappointment, shame, lost opportunities, self deceit, self-loathing, etc., all the things that prevent me from being who I am meant to be. I hold on to the good reasons and the remember the bad results and focus on getting through another day.  I didn’t meet my friend for a drink and I didn’t tell him I no longer drink. That’s for Thursday night.

 Erin go bragh.  Day 17.  Check.

Stuff To Do Instead Of Drinking (In praise of video games and pickleball).

I am currently on day eleven without a drink and it is, as expected, a struggle. I have been through a few drying out stints before. One lasted 60 days and the other two lasted roughly 30 days. None of them were easy, and none of them stuck. This time I have different goals and different resolve.

I once told someone close to me that I had given up the sauce and their response was “What are you going to do instead?”. The person asking the question was a pretty regular drinker, not necessarily with a problem, and the question was sincere and relevant. People that find out you’re not drinking can make some pretty goofy comments and ask some pretty dumb questions, but this wasn’t one. In fact, I have found that one of the hardest things about sobriety is dealing with the void that is left in the absence of alcohol. I have to deal with the ruminating thoughts, doubt, anxiety and the sheer fucking boredom that can hi-jack my recovery plan. The one thing I have learned is that if I want to stay sober I had better have a plan for boredom. Vitamin B, meditation, prayer and meetings may be great, but preventing boredom and distracting myself from me and my alcohol habit, is also essential. So here are some tips and ideas I use to get my mind off the monkey:

1. Reading. Get something you can sink your teeth into and don’t worry about whether it has literary value or not – this ain’t book club. I love challenging reads but some good old-fashioned escapism is also just fine. Stephen King and George RR Martin are just as affective as Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Pynchon.
2. Video Games. That’s right folks, I don’t care if you are over forty and have never played one in your life trust me, they can provide hours of pure fun and distraction (watch Kevin Spacey on House of Cards). Sports, hunting, warfare, whatever, tune in and tune out.
3. Sports. Not watching, playing. Tennis, basketball, pickle-ball, ping-pong, biking and running clubs, etc, etc.. Working out is great and these activities provide the potent combination of exercise with the incredible distraction and mental cleansing that comes with competition. Get competitive and let it clear you out.
4. Work. That’s right, you’re not hung over or tired, make up for some lost time and kick some ass at the office.
5. Blog. Read’em and write’em. Incredible support and some extraordinarily interesting stories.
6. Podcasts. This is a vast landscape of fascinating content. iTunes will hook you right up. Some favorites: This American Life, TED Radio Hour, On Being, Zen Cast, Radiolab, The One you Feed, Stuff You Missed in History Class, The Moth and Pray as You Go (don’t judge this one until you listen).
7. Crosswords, Sudoku, etc.
8. Volunteer. Despite popular opinion it’s not all about us.

Listen, I understand that these are short-term fixes that don’t necessarily address the underlying issues we face from our addictions, but hopefully they help provide some relief while we work on our longer term solutions. The most important thing is to do something, anything, instead of drinking. Please respond if you have any additional ideas.

Musings From Planet X

Day five.  No booze.  I have always imagined that abstinence of any type would be much easier if one were stranded on a desert island or isolated on an outpost in the wilderness.  So much temptation would be removed from the equation due to the simple lack of product (booze, cigarettes, etc.) and friends. No one to tempt me and nothing to be tempted with. I imagine myself to be a rock under these circumstances.  A lonely, neurotic, bored-to-fucking-death rock.  However, barring a move to Saudi Arabia or exile in Malta (See Napoleon) I will be required to actually have some willpower and discipline to accomplish this here among the living and the tempting.

And who exactly am I going to get away from?  My wife who drinks, but not with seriousness that I do?  What about my friends, most of whom have pretty similar drinking habits as mine?  What about me?  How do I get away from myself?  My identity is interwoven with drinking and the relief and enjoyment I find in it.  Hell, I love to drink.  I am a pro at it. It’s part of my identity: the risk taker, conversationalist, and gregarious boozer, you know – the party guy.   Trust me, bastards like me hate to leave the party.

Does it really require emptying the house of booze and living in seclusion? Or can one live a fairly fun, rewarding, exciting life while eliminating something that has grown from a rite of passage, to a social foundation  and the on to a destructive habit / addiction?  Is there life after quitting?  Is there a “Dry Life” that actually includes the “life” component?  Or is it just a joyless grind of hanging on “One Day at a Time”?

And by the way,  as most of us know,  this is not an easy move to make.  I have known people who refused to make this adjustment, even at the direct and clear advice of their doctors. People who just decided – fuck it, I’m not changing.  Some live on, two are dead.  I also know some who have given booze up, or modified the intake so radically that is essentially eliminated.  Some of these are the grinders – people whose affliction never leaves them alone.  They fight the battle everyday, with the aide of a higher power, meetings, detox or Anabuse.   And I know some that seem to have made transition to abstinence or extreme moderation without having to enlist in the “Army of the Addicted”.  They seem to have adjusted fairly well and have just changed their priorities or decision making process.  I know there are different levels of affliction and different approaches to being able to handle the addiction.  I am not judging, or offering an opinion , its just an observation.

I am hoping there is a way to eliminate the problem from my life without the rest of my life being a grim battle with myself and my demons, hoping that I can own the problem and simply quit, without constant melancholy and fear that the black dog is always on my doorstep, and hoping that I can maintain my friendships and my marriage without having to remove myself from every social situation that involves booze.  I know it wont be easy I am just hoping it gets easier.  We’ll see.